Jakarta’s Uncertain Future: What Can We Learn?

Imagine living on a plot of land with a view of the ocean some distance from your back door. Then imagine watching that view creep closer and closer, year by year, until the water literally towers over your home, held back by a questionable wall.

Would you leave? If so, where would you go? And if you couldn’t afford to move, couldn’t leave your job, or didn’t want to say goodbye to your family and the city you call home, what would you do?


Many residents of Jakarta, Indonesia’s teeming capital city, are asking themselves the same questions. And for those who are changing their minds and deciding to leave only now, the decision may be coming too late.

Most major coastal cities are now feeling the impact of a warming planet, experiencing stronger and more destructive storms and higher water levels at all stages of the tide cycle. While some cities (like Tokyo) build massive storm water drainage systems, others (like Houston) fight to pick up the pieces after record storm damage, still others look into the future and try to plan around thorny and entrenched obstacles to progress and protection. These can include broken and ineffective flood insurance programs, a dangerous absence of building codes, and diminishing footprints of unpaved ground that might give storm water a chance to run off instead of creep inland.

In the meantime, while city planners argue over the next steps and government funding stalls due to corruption or conflicting priorities, what happens to the families and individuals who can’t leave or enact citywide change on their own? What happens to those who live just behind the wall that holds back the sea?

Take a close look at the story of Jakarta’s real-time battle against the impact of climate change, and consider what other cities around the world can learn from both the process and the outcome. We turn to Puerto Rico, recently devastated by hurricane Maria, for insight into the aftermath of a powerful storm and how a city finds its footing after losing its power grid and much of its economic base. Maybe we can turn to Jakarta to better understand the factors that make a city vulnerable to such damage in the first place.

To help us connect the dots and better understand the impact of a changing climate on the systems and institutions that sustain us, contact Just Atonement and join our team.